But true to the erratic wheel of fortune that can take a play three or 300 years old and spin it anew, this Odd Couple is not at all the creaky-kneed vehicle some might have predicted. Director Paul Hough has cast it with a pack of actors who know both the intricacies and broad gestures of a good comedy. Some bits in the production are as old as the Marx Brothers, such as the one involving bags of trash piled up against a closet door that roll into the room at inopportune moments. There also are double takes and pratfalls and nearly every other lesson from the "How to Do Comedy" primer. This, though (at least three-quarters of it), is an advanced class.
Playwright Neil Simon shrewdly determined there was more life left in this old bird and transformed Felix into Florence and Oscar into Olive, played here by Debra Bluford and Vicki Oleson. During a lengthy opening scene, Olive and her lady friends play Trivial Pursuit. (In the testosterone version, men played poker.) The characters include Sylvie (Kathleen Warfel), a bohemian with a dubious love life; Mickey (Missy Koonce), a long-married cop; Renee (Vicki Baker), a sexpot who views the male species as an appetizer plate; and Vera (Mary Gay Rogers), the naive foil to the others' jokes. ("What's the oldest living vegetable?" she asks; she's met with Sylvie's "You are.")
Game night collapses when a weepy, vaguely suicidal Florence shows up with the news that her husband, Sidney, has left her. He doesn't sound like any kind of prize -- he's short with a bad toupée, for starters -- but that doesn't matter to Florence. When the second act opens, Florence and Olive are roommates besieged by each other's tics: Flo is obsessively clean, and Olive is a perpetual slob. In the third scene, the ladies invite to supper two Spaniards from their building, Manolo (John Luongo) and Jesus (Kyle Mowry, whose new moustache would make him the perfect Simon Legree). But horny Olive's plans go awry when she's in the kitchen stirring drinks; she reenters the room and finds a sob session about the trio's exes.
The program fails to mention there's a fourth scene -- perhaps for good reason. By this time (a quarter past 10), the familiar plot twists (such as the plate of linguine that becomes a projectile) have grown routine and the bickering between Flo and Olive boring. But everything to that point is wickedly clever, including William Christie's props (such as the dead plants before Florence redecorates) and Doug Brown's costumes (even down to the ladies' shoes).
The diverse wardrobe also lets the actors distinctly stamp their roles -- but it's not as if they needed much help. Despite their glaring height difference, Bluford and Oleson play a sort of verbal tennis that makes them the Venus and Serena Williams of farce. (Oleson tells Bluford to "Funnel it," making the sentence a variation on an obscene phrase that starts with "f.") And Warfel's inventive performance is impressive: Her Sylvie is a free spirit and a cynic, with a history Simon couldn't have begun to exorcise. Baker plays Renee like a call girl gone suburban, and Rogers' investment in her character's idiocy yields high returns. Koonce, Luongo and Mowry have less to work with, yet they immerse themselves appropriately into the New York setting.
A smidgen of the updating and a few other details fall flat. When Sylvie asks Vera, "Are you on Valium?" you want to hear instead the trendier, "Are you on crack?" There's a reference to e-mail, but Olive doesn't have an answering machine -- and she reads the New York Times even though she's clearly a Post kind of gal. You get the perturbable sense that these ladies are way out of the loop. But it's the clash of values -- not the clash of eras -- that makes the apartment the witty arena it is.